Sucking it up (and in) for an ocean swim.

My friend called yesterday to see if I’d like to go for a swim at The Cove early this morning. We could do that first, rinse off in the showers, then drive up to visit a friend who has adopted a brand new baby.

“How early?” I asked.

“6:45? It’s not that cold. You get used to it and the water’s calm at that hour. It’s great,” she tells me.

“I know. Sure,” I say, before I’m tempted to start whining about having to put on a bathing suit. Do I even own one? When was the last time I saw it? And when in hell was the last time I got in that water? It wasn’t the cold so much as it was the kelp and long pieces of sea grass that you have to swim through. And you can’t really see the bottom unless you wear goggles. We wouldn’t be snorkeling, we’d be swimming out to a buoy and back for the exercise. How far was that buoy?

“Make sure you bring your fins. You have some, right?”

“Yah, I have some — well, they’re the RT’s but they’ll work. I’ve used them before,” I said, trying to remember when that was, and how little his feet were then.

“Great. See you tomorrow. I’ll come pick you up. We’ll have coffee, too,” she promised before hanging up.

I woke up before the alarm at about 6am — always a good sign. The night before, I had found not one, but two suits I’d used in the past few years, and both seemed to be fine. There was no way I planned to try either on, as the idea of having to look at myself in one has never been one of my favorite things to do. Ever. No matter, I thought as I grabbed one, and threw it on with a pair of cargo shorts and a tee. I stuffed some undies into my purse to change into after we were finished with our swim, and out the door I went, already deciding that even though I was dressed for a swim, I wasn’t ready to participate.

The morning was quite grey, and not especially warm. It was very quiet out as it often is on days with heavy overcast skies. My ride came and we drove to pick up another friend before heading to The Cove. The mood was light as we drove the short distance, and they graciously listened to me as I told them I may not go in. “The water’s great. It’s only cold right when you get in,” I was consoled. “You get used to it really quickly.” One of them had brought her wet suit along, so she wasn’t the one giving me the pep talk.

La Jolla Cove But I had begun to think that something else was bothering me. Was I afraid? I hadn’t thought about that before. Although I was never what you’d call a beach kid growing up, I’ve always lived near one, and did spend more time than the average person may spend at the beach. I don’t recall being afraid. Or do I? Maybe it’s just that I have a healthy respect for the strength of the ocean. Maybe the combination of the chill of the water, the murkiness…

We were there so quickly, none of it mattered anyway. I dropped my pants and left them in the car before following the others down the long flight of stairs past the large group of people clad in diving gear getting ready to head down as well. Lots of people come to The Cove to scuba dive. As we piled our things on a rock just below the wall of the cliff, I squinted to see which buoy we’d be aiming for. It wasn’t close. My two friends had just done the swim the past two days, and were letting me know that I’d be fine, and that with my fins, I wouldn’t have to use my arms at all. By this time, I had already begun to remember the instructions I must have had many years before — kick with your whole leg from the hip, back and forth…

The small shoreline of The Cove is quite steep, the large grains of sand loose, and the surf harsh from time to time. Large rocks lie in and around the water, and sea grass is visible swaying with the constant motion of the water. The tide was low. I had goggles around my head, but decided I’d most likely not use them. So many others were just beginning or ending their swims. The group of divers had come down the stairs and awkwardly headed toward the water, lumbering, waddling back and forth to the edge — some backwards, as they already had their fins on.

The coldness of the water isn’t horrible as I step into it, but I always have trouble with the flutter of seagrass against my legs. Seagrass I remind myself the water is refreshing when it’s been hot, and a bit of chill in the beginning is worth it. But once it hits my torso, the breath leaves me gasping a second or two. One of my friends holds my fins as I float in the water, pushing them onto my feet, one by one. The shore is barely two yards away, and already we have to tread water and begin to paddle. There are no waves — just large swells that carry us up and over, gently. I can tell where the kelp is ahead, as the bulbous heads poke their way to the top of the water, the very end of a long and wide rope I can’t see below for more than a few feet. Long strands of grass flow through the water in front of us, but thin as we swim farther from the shore.Kelp Forest

The water is very salty, and soft. It takes little effort to hold myself afloat, whether I’m moving my arms or legs. I just want to turn on my back and float there, feeling the gentle lift of an occasional swell. Although I’ve been paddling enough to speed my breathing, it seems I’m not getting anywhere and I have to occasionally look toward the rocks near the cliff to measure that I’m actually getting somewhere. I can hear a seal baying on the rocks, and six feet away, one pushes its head above water before quickly diving back under. A long silver fish jumps up out of the water in front of us. I’m tempted to put on my goggles knowing that although the water seems grey, I would be able to see golden garibaldis swimming not too far below us.


The water is so soothing I could stay all day. I wonder already why it’s so difficult to remind myself that I enjoy it from one time to the next. Why it’s easier to make excuses about bathing suits and very un-tropical water. “We’re almost to the buoy — do you want to go to the next one?” one friend asks of me.

“How far is it?” I respond, thinking I might be too tired by the time I have to turn around to head back.

“The same distance we’ve just come, but it’s your call,” she tells me, knowing I’m concerned about not being able to make it. “We’ll swim back with you, and then go back ourselves. That’s okay,” she tells me, always the gracious person she is.

So we head back, passing many serious swimmers in their brightly colored caps, sporting their competent crawls and gliding effortlessly through the glassy water. They don’t seem to mind the kelp, the grass, or us — paddling at a relaxed pace, talking from time to time about nothing in particular — switching positions from back to front to relieve the tiredness in our muscles. We are quickly back to shore. “Make sure you take your fins off before you walk out,” one of my friends calls to me as they head back out. “You’ll roll over if you don’t.”

I do as she says, and still have trouble getting out of the water, going down on my knees once before finally making my exit. I turn to see where they are in the water, and notice they have already made some distance. I am tempted to get back in and am a bit sorry for not continuing. But I do notice that my legs are a bit shaky, so know it’s okay that I wimped out on the extra distance. I wait and watch those latest to The Cove readying themselves for the water, wrapping my towel about me to dry off. I feel refreshed. I have time to notice that most of the bathing suit clad bodies in and around The Cove are less than svelte. A good number of them are quite a bit older than I, but most likely, routine swimmers. I could just tell.

As the three of us prepared to head for the showers, one of my friends turned to me and whispered, “I guess it takes all different shapes,” to me as we eyed another group passing us on their way down. A young thin woman, a couple of older, heavier females, and a large man were suited to spend their time in the water as we had. How true, I thought, and how nice.

I’m glad I decided to go in, and even more glad I have friends who tolerate my idiosyncrasies with kind patience.

I don’t deserve that sometimes.





7 responses to “Sucking it up (and in) for an ocean swim.”

  1. girl,, you are so much braver than me… number one i do not own a bathing suit for exactly that reason.. and number two.. i grew up on the atlantic ocean,, and you cant get me in this pacific ocean for love or money!!!!!! your friends are lucky to have a good sport like you on the team,, id have been at the car smoking a cigarette and waiting for them to drown……

  2. Loripea

    I would not have gotten in that water. I would have been so frightened (said with tiny French accent). I would have been afraid that I would not make it and would eventually float out to sea never to be seen again except by a passing cruise ship.

  3. Lori, the image is hilarious. Sorry. Might you have a flag you could hoist to signal for help?

    Hey Paisley, I vaguely remember the Atlantic. We lived in Key West (lots of crabs and barracudas) and in Spain. Oddly, the water there is almost exactly like it it here. I don’t remember the seaweed and definitely not the grass. Ew….that’s a challenge! And my friends kick my butt. I’m the whiner in the group, so that’s most like staying in the car for a smoke. Ha!

  4. That looks delightful to me. It has me wondering, why oh why did I choose to work in the Nation’s Capital.

  5. I posted a comment but it’s gone. I am assuming that as with my installation of wordpress it will show up eventually.

  6. Ooh, you are a brave woman…
    I love the water, but am not much good in it.
    Especially with lurking sea grasses tugging at my legs….

    I’m sure I would have had a “headache”…

    Ps: I thought I was on your blogroll and now I’m not…I’m going to cry

  7. Hey Cooper — Yes, there you are — twice. And you’re right, the swim was delightful once I got over the whatever was going through my head to begin with. Maybe I can suck it up once a week to do it….

    Minx — you’ll be there. I’ve been shifting, changing, adding, deleting and all that crap since finally getting my theme set. How could you not be?

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